US Companies Talk Layoffs Like Never Before

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By Farah Elbahrawy, Bloomberg Markets Live reporter and analyst

US companies are discussing cost control (i.e., layoffs) on earnings calls at a record rate, amid a push to reallocate funds and invest in new technologies, according to an analysis by Morgan Stanley strategists.

Transcript mentions of “operational efficiency” are at highest ever in the US during this earnings season as companies focus on expense discipline, but also invest in technologies “that can drive future productivity like AI,” a team led by Michael Wilson wrote in a note.

There is a notable overlap among the industries discussing operational efficiency most prevalently and those that are discussing AI, the strategists said. These groups include software, professional services, health care services, and financial services.

Pfizer Inc., BlackRock Inc., and Lam Research Corp. were among S&P 500 companies touting operational efficiency in their earnings calls this season, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The rising focus on cost control comes as firms position to protect margins amid hopes for a soft economic landing. Investors have looked for signs of cooling in the jobs market to gauge when the Federal Reserve will lower borrowing costs, although recent hot data has signaled the Fed won’t be easing anytime soon.

Managing expenses has been a key theme this season. Walt Disney said profit this year will rise at least 20% thanks to cost cutting. Hertz Global Holdings is looking to reduce costs and Levi Strauss & Co. said a new initiative to boost efficiency will include cost-cutting operations like eliminating jobs.

Some companies are reallocating these funds to grow their business. Estée Lauder is cutting jobs as part of a revamp plan to allow it to respond more quickly to new beauty trends and invest more in its brands. Meta is spending aggressively on artificial intelligence advancements while Amazon.com will be cautious about new investments.

On the artificial intelligence front, all eyes will be on Nvidia which is expected to report later this month. So far this season, Arm Holdings soared as artificial intelligence spending helped bolster the chip designer’s forecast. Palantir Technologies also benefited from big demand for its AI technology.

The bar is high for Nvidia, which has been the biggest beneficiary of the AI trend. Analysts estimate earnings-per-share will rise 602% in its fiscal quarter ending Jan. 31 from a year ago. The Magnificent Seven group of megacap tech stocks including Nvidia need to deliver stellar earnings to keep outperforming the broader market, according to various strategists.

Morgan Stanley’s Wilson recently listed Nvidia, Apple Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Alphabet Inc. among a screen of high-quality growth stocks that have overweight ratings from the bank’s analysts. He’s constructive on this group of quality stocks, as well as those delivering high operational efficiency as an extension.

 

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